The one thing that motivates a northwestern researcher to find a solution to metastatic cancer is the loss of her mother.
“My mom died when I was 12,” says Dr. Sui Huang. “I have this vengeance against it. I do research. Maybe I find something.”
Under the microscope Dr. Huang can see some changes in cancer cells she’s been studying. A metastatic cancer cell stopped in its tracks.
“So this cell is a cell that got treated with the drug,” says Dr. Huang. “They just sort of collapse.”
The cell’s structure and shape did change. It can no longer make protein, an essential building block.
“For the cancer cell to keep growing and spreading, they need a lot of protein made. So if you block the ability they won’t survive.”
It’s just one way metarrestin-a new compound Dr. Huang and her colleagues developed-seems to inhibit cancer cells from spreading. But it likely targets multiple factors that fuel metastatic disease, making it even more powerful. Still how it works is a bit of a mystery.
“We don’t actually know the mechanism whether we are blocking the spread of those cells or are we blocking the cells that already spread and are not able to grow.”
So far the compound has been tested in animal models, where it inhibited metastasis in human breast, prostate and pancreatic cancers transferred to mice. Ultimately the team would like to test it out in human clinical trials particularly in pancreatic cancer patients.
The next step is to submit the compound to the FDA as a potential investigational drug so that human testing can get underway. Ultimately the compound could be used in combination with standard care
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